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Summary:

Helion Energy, a startup developing engines powered by nuclear fusion, is certain to pique the interest of sci-fi fans. But the more important question for Helion President Philip Wallace is whether the same can be said of venture capitalists. That’s because the Seattle-based company is on […]

helion_logo1Helion Energy, a startup developing engines powered by nuclear fusion, is certain to pique the interest of sci-fi fans. But the more important question for Helion President Philip Wallace is whether the same can be said of venture capitalists. That’s because the Seattle-based company is on the hunt for $20 million in financing to build a full-scale model of its fusion engine.

That engine, which the company currently has a prototype of at one-third scale, works by forming hot, ionized hydrogen gas. The gas is then electromagnetically accelerated to greater than 1 million mph and collided in a burn chamber to generate enormous amounts of heat energy.

The company’s plan is to sell its technology to new and existing power generation sites. Helion’s engines, once commercially ready, could be used to produce heat in power plants that currently rely on burning coal or natural gas, Wallace said. The heat runs steam turbines that drive generators to produce electricity. “We are very confident that we can out perform all carbon-based energy sources. If we can implement the technology, the economics follow,” he said.

But any venture capitalist that invests with Helion better have patience. Wallace said the full-scale prototype should be ready by 2011 or 2012 and a commercial engine available within a “decade.” Meanwhile, other companies are pushing to develop technology based on nuclear fusion. They include Burnaby, British Columbia-based General Fusion and the super-stealthy Tri-Alpha Energy, which reportedly raised $40 million in venture funding in 2007. Still, Helion’s Wallace believes his company can commercialize more quickly and cheaply than its competitors.

Nuclear fusion is often confused with its more politicized cousin, nuclear fission, but the two are distinct. In fusion, two light atomic nuclei are fused together to form a heavier nucleus and in the process release a large amount of heat energy. Unlike with fission, which produces radioactive waste, the by-product of fusion is environmentally safe. Wallace said that’s one reason why generating electricity from fusion will be cheaper than current nuclear power, which is based on fission—companies using it wouldn’t have the safety and regulatory hurdles to overcome.

As exciting as Helion’s technology is, it’s going to take a lot of money before its fusion engines start replacing coal. The company predicts it will need $100 million on top of the $20 million it currently seeks to go from full-scale prototype to commercial production.

  1. ROFL
    there’s a sucker born every minute.

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  2. [...] of the content syndication biz (NewTeeVee) Gattner puts Microsoft Project online (WebWorkerDaily) Startup Helion Energy seeks $20 million to build a fusion engine (Earth2Tech) [...]

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  3. [...] of the content syndication biz (NewTeeVee) Gattner puts Microsoft Project online (WebWorkerDaily) Startup Helion Energy seeks $20 million to build a fusion engine [...]

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  4. Well, the article said they have a prototype. They didn’t say how well it works.
    Given they they just flat out lost $9 billion i cash in Iraq, $20 million doesn’t sound so big. Let them try it. Who knows? It might work.

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  5. Seb Tallents Monday, April 27, 2009

    It looks like a magnetic mirror, possibly with an neutral beam injector or ion injector at either end.

    These kinds of approach have been tried before, and fail for some fairly fundamental reasons. The mangled technobable on their website references a “reversed field configuration”, having just completed my PhD in magnetic confinement fusion, that sounds suspiciously like a Reversed Field Pinch, a predecessor of the more conventional candidate for a fusion reactor.

    $120m wouldn’t buy you decent diagnostics to take the measurements that would help project the scaling of this device, let alone a commercial product.

    As for the claim that fusion power is being generated in this set up right now, I remain skeptical. Tritium requires serious handling as it is a high activity isotope that can be easily absorbed and retained in the body, and the rig does not look remotely adequate to conform to (at least UK, so almost certainly also US) Health and Safety requirements. Therefore, I suspect if they genuinely are getting fusion reactions, it will only be D-D fusion from high energy ions at incredibly low rates, which is not particularly new or uncommon, but such reactions consume vastly more energy than is put in as heating.

    So I would then to agree with the first post in the absence of any real data on performance. Of course it is possible they have stumbled upon some very clever new approach that the thousands of researchers into nuclear fusion, with billions of dollars of funding, exploring a whole menagerie of different types of machines have somehow missed over the past 60 years. However some serious technical data would be good, such as temperature, density and/or pressure profiles, and particle or energy confinement times, and the heating power used etc. Instead we have a picture of some vacuum kit with coils wrapped around it and a glow. I could replicate that with a few thousand pounds, most of that being the vacuum flanges.

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  6. Thanks, Seb. Although I agree with #1, as well – I suffer through hundreds of blog comments every day that are reactive without any science or reality to back them up.

    And look forward to the very few that are informed as is your own.

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  7. WOW only 100M to get into production!!
    BHO could give them that much and never know it was gone!!!

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  8. if you give 20 million i will plant tens of forests, and build thousands of solar converters, develop better batteries. Give people jobs and free energy, and i would buy myself a nice house at the beach…and a Mercedes…and stuff

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